Despite some confusion, Louisiana’s top school board is scheduled to consider next week whether to revoke the teaching certificate of a former Destrehan educator accused of having sex with a 16-year-old student.
A committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to review the topic at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Any decision it makes is likely to be endorsed on Wednesday by the full board.
The case involves Shelley Dufresne, a former Destrehan High School teacher who initially faced one felony count of carnal knowledge of a juvenile, which carried a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
However, there is disagreement on whether what Dufresne later pleaded guilty to will make it an open-and-shut case for BESE.
On April 9, Dufresne pleaded guilty to one count of felony obscenity and received a deferred sentence of three years in prison, three years of active probation and a $1,000 fine.
But the next day, after St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson II’s office changed the charge against her, Dufresne was allowed to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor obscenity, with the same sentence but no requirement that she register as a sex offender.
Under both deals, she was supposed to forfeit her teacher’s license.
State education officials are recommending that her teaching certificate be revoked.
But they are doing so, according to state documents, because records from Louisiana Probation and Parole show Dufresne pleaded guilty to felony obscenity.
Under BESE rules, any teacher convicted of a felony faces suspension of the certificate by the department and revocation by the 11-member board.
The only reason a teacher would not lose the certificate, according to agency documents, is if the teacher can provide documentation that he or she was not convicted of the crime.
State officials notified Dufresne on July 2 that BESE would conduct a revocation hearing during its August meeting.
Neither the department nor BESE has gotten any documentation that disputes the felony conviction, officials said.
Deanne Williams, Dufresne’s attorney, did not return a call for comment Friday.
Asked about the felony/misdemeanor discrepancy, Kevin Calbert, a spokesman for BESE, said state officials were notified that Dufresne pleaded guilty to a felony.
“The recommendation to revoke is based on the records received by BESE from Louisiana Probation and Parole of the felony obscenity conviction, which was the only documentation this office received,” Calbert said in an email.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission in May asked Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office to investigate whether Chaisson gave special treatment to Dufresne by allowing her to avoid prison time or having to register as a sex offender.
In a letter, MCC President Rafael Goyeneche said that, on April 10, the day after Dufresne accepted the plea deal, Chaisson’s office filed a corrected bill of information that changed the statute cited in the obscenity count — making it a misdemeanor.
He said Chaisson should have recused himself because his office routinely prosecutes cases in the court of 29th Judicial District Judge Emile St. Pierre, of Hahnville, who is Dufresne’s father.
Chaisson has defended the outcome, saying the obscenity law is complicated and that Dufresne may have gotten a harsher sentence than the statute allows.
Goyeneche said Friday that, while the plea agreement requires Dufresne to forfeit her teaching certificate, doing so voluntarily means she could seek reinstatement later. If BESE revokes the certificate, it cannot be reinstated.
In another twist, Dufresne’s attorney Williams has asked for a Sept. 1 hearing so her client can change her plea to felony obscenity, with the same sentence.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.